ITC opens probe into Qualcomm's charges against Apple

Last month, Qualcomm asked the federal agency to bar the import of some iPhones and other devices, charging that Apple is infringing on Qualcomm patents.

At the behest of Qualcomm, the US International Trade Commission (ITC) is launching an investigation into whether certain Apple devices, including the iPhone 7, infringe on Qualcomm patents.

Specifically, the federal agency will probe whether the importation of the iPhone 7, along with various device components like baseband processor modems, violates the Tariff Act of 1930. Last month, Qualcomm asked the ITC to investigate the matter, and to bar Apple from importing into the US iPhones that use cellular baseband processors other than those supplied by Qualcomm's affiliates.

The ITC noted it has not yet made any decision on the merits of the case. The case will be assigned to an ITC administrative law judge, who will hold an evidentiary hearing and make an initial determination as to whether Apple violated the law. That initial determination is subject to review by the ITC.

The ITC will made a final determination "at the earliest practicable time," it said. The agency will set a target date for completing its investigation within the next 45 days.

Qualcomm said in a statement it is pleased with the ITC's decision to open the investigation.

"We look forward to the ITC's expeditious investigation of Apple's ongoing infringement of our intellectual property and the accelerated relief that the Commission can provide," Don Rosenberg, executive vice president and general counsel of Qualcomm, said in the statement.

The legal saga between Apple and Qualcomm started in January, when Apple filed a lawsuit that accused the semiconductor giant of overcharging for chips and withholding nearly $1 billion in contractual rebate payments.

Last month, Intel filed its own statement with the ITC, charging that Qualcomm's request for the regulatory agency to intervene was "a transparent effort to stave off lawful competition from Qualcomm's only remaining rival."

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